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A losing game – the death of Amy Winehouse

The only truly shocking thing about Amy Winehouse’s death was that it seemed to shock so many people. Perhaps this was because of her relatively low profile over the last 18 months of her life. When she stopped being pictured flailing pathetically on stage, or fighting in the street at 3am caked in dirt with eyes like saucers, the public may have assumed that all was well. No news was, indeed, good news. Alas, one of the unfortunate things about addiction is that you have to live with it even when others can’t see it.

Winehouse’s lower public profile didn’t mean that her life was better. She was a crack addict with alcohol issues, a frail girl who seemed both mentally and physically unprepared for the rigours of tabloid fame. Amy Winehouse could rightly claim she never asked for that; whether you like her music or not, her success was not down to courting the media, or being styled by some cynical pop overlord. People bought Amy Winehouse records because they liked Amy Winehouse records.

At 27, she joined the peculiarly large list of troubled musical icons who died at that age. Like Morrison, Joplin and Cobain, she’ll never grow old. As memories fade and the less glamorous elements of the drug use fade from memory, she’ll be remembered as a tragic heroine, a bee-hived powerhouse. ‘Rehab’, a huge song and an irresistible hit, will become both her requiem and legacy. In much the same way as Ian Curtis’s death brought his lyrics an authority that could never be questioned, the themes of her more famous songs become magnified and given a depth and poignancy which will colour how future generations hear them. Their creator’s premature death means they’ll live forever now.

In some quarters, addiction is dismissed as a choice. That belief is widespread and understandable, but still simplistic. Ask yourself about a junkie – do you think that’s the life they saw for themselves? Amy Winehouse had achieved all she’d ever dreamed of, yet her last few years seemed a series of ever-more miserable stories and a rapid descent resulting in a tawdry and tragic end. Why would anyone choose that?

The records will go up the charts, the shambling stage shows will be forgotten and she’ll become the tattooed Queen of our Hearts, as Britain indulges itself in its hobby of collective grief tourism. But in the end, it’s just another familiar rock and roll story with the inevitably sad ending.


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